Football journalism from the attic: Sportsyear Magazine’s World Cup 90 preview

I recently rediscovered an issue of the long defunct BBC Sportsyear Magazine in my Mum’s loft, where it had been preserved for posterity (i.e. buried in all the junk I left behind). Not just any copy, it was the World Cup 1990 edition, featuring a tournament preview by Brian Glanville, and interviews with Bobby Robson, Andy Roxburgh and Jack Charlton. Exciting, yes? Well, I’m going to share some highlights and then you can see for yourself.

Just to get you in the mood, here are the BBC credits featuring a couple of gold ballerinas prancing around a football. Ok, that part was a bit a shit, but the climax of Nessun Dorma juxtaposed with the roar of Marco Tardelli? EPIC.

Right, to the magazine, and there is plenty of nostalgia to be had, but some darker memories too. For example, the magazine is sponsored by Skol, one of the most deeply unpleasant attempts at beer ever foisted upon the English public, and apparently the product of a sinister multi-national plot to get the world addicted to tasteless piss.

However, of much greater significance than the beverages on offer in 1990, the political landscape in Europe was in the process of enormous upheaval. As a result, several of the competing nations from 1990 no longer exist: West Germany; the Soviet Union (with a huge Dynamo Kiev contingent); and, most chillingly, Yugoslavia, who had some ridiculous talent in a squad boasting the cream of Serbian  and Croatian football (Prosinecki, Boban, and Stojkovic – yeah, that good). It’s deeply unnerving to read about their prospects knowing that only a year later this nation would be a ripped apart by war.

The foreword is written by someone who never seemed overly burdened by the weightier issues of the day, the old charmer himself, Des Lynam. It reads as you’d expect with a familiar, casual, ‘Hi, Des here’ tone, and highly unlikely to provoke heated debate. Des fancied Brazil but, although he didn’t think the West Germans had a vintage team, they were “always a danger”.

Thankfully, Brian Glanville’s preview is a bit more thorough. I don’t know how the average fan kept up to speed with world football before the age of internet and satellite TV, but I imagine it was mostly via the work of reporters like Glanville and their musings on the emerging talents of world football.

Glanville picked Red Star Belgrade’s Dejan Savicevic as one such talent, describing him as ‘one of the best in Europe’. I’d also forgotten how talented Romania’s team was, with Hagi, Lacatus, Belodedici and Popescu. Maybe they performed better four years later in America, but even so it puts Ireland’s achievement of beating them into context.

It seems that a lot was expected of Brazil, as Glanville was also backing them, but dismissed the chances of England and Italy. Argentina, with the greatest player in the world in their ranks, only warrant a few lines. Maradona’s fitness was in doubt, and apparently he had been complaining about his team’s draw. Glanville correctly suggests that Italy’s star striker, Gianluca Vialli, was struggling going into the tournament; as we know, Vialli failed to score any goals and was completely upstaged by the less celebrated Toto Schillaci.

Also included in the preview are some boxes on specific topics to educate the reader on football culture in Italy, such as the media and finances. This claim looks more dated than most: “the Italian league is so wealthy that most of the world’s leading international players have been signed by Italian clubs”. There was no dispute that Serie A was the undisputed glamour league of the time, however, and that must have added a sense of grandeur to the tournament (I was 11, so I thought all world cups were like this).

There is an understandable focus on the contrasting expectations of England, Scotland and Ireland and the magazine features interviews with Bobby Robson, Andy Roxburgh and Jack Charlton.

Bobby Robson appears relaxed and mildly optimistic; hailing his squad as the most talented he has ever assembled. However, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Andy Roxburgh; the opening paragraph refers to him as ‘Andy Who?’ I always thought Roxburgh seemed like a thoughtful, likeable chap, and he confesses to the interviewer that all he wants on his tombstone is “Teacher”. It’s all a bit tragic when you think of the Costa Rican disaster that was lying in wait for his team. As for Jack Charlton, his side’s perspective can be summed up by one quote, “other teams will misuse their strengths and that will give us a chance”.

I’ll shut up now and let you read some for yourself. You can download a few of the articles from the links below.

Sportsyear Magazine – Brian Glanville’s preview

Sportsyear Magazine – interviews with the managers

Want more? Check out the BBC’s Goal of the Tournament, and all the squads and results from the 1990 World Cup are available here.

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2 Responses to Football journalism from the attic: Sportsyear Magazine’s World Cup 90 preview

  1. Danny Slevin says:

    Italia 90 gets a load of bad press but it’s still my favorite World Cup (Ireland getting to the quarters may have had a little something to do with that). The pope getting an audience with Paul Mcgrath still brings a tear to the eye.

    P.s. F*#K Schillachi!

    • Michael says:

      I’ve read that it had a very low goals per game ratio, and people remember the football as being very cynical. But, it did have plenty of drama, and that’s what you remember. And the location couldn’t have been more spectacular at the time. It is my favourite too.

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